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Citation. Tilman, D. 1986. A consumer-resource approach to community structure. American Zoologist 26:5-22. [1161 LTER]
Abstract. Because all species are consumers and all, eventually, are consumed by other species, consumer-resource interaction is one of the most fundamental processes of ecology. Simple models that include the direct mechanisms of consumer-resource interactions may thus be the fundamental building-block for models of community structure. These models are easily extended to include such complexity as the effects of physical limiting factors, spatial heterogeneity in resource supply, fluctuating resource supply, and multiple trophic levels. Each such modification places constraints on the traits of species that can persist. Consumer-resource models make predictions about many aspects of community structure, including species richness, species composition, species dominance, population dynamics, morphological or physiological traits of species, and patterns of phenotypic variation within species. Thus, each model affords numerous opportunities to test and modify or reject it. A review of a variety of communities suggests that much of the structure of each community can be explained by a relatively simple consumer-resource model, but that different elements of complexity may be important in different communities.